Released 39 years ago this month, Star Trek: The Motion Picture unfortunately isn’t a movie that gets any better with age.
It’s safe to say that without the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek might have remained on television and never made the jump to the big screen.
But thanks to the Steven Spielberg classic, Paramount Pictures saw there was enough interest in science fiction beyond just the cultural tsunami that was Star Wars in 1977 to bring Star Trek to theaters everywhere.
The result was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Directed by Robert Wise and produced by Gene Roddenberry himself, the film reunited the entire cast of the television show in a big budget extravaganza. The movie saw the Enterprise head into space to stop V’Ger, a cloud/spaceship that was annihilating everything in its path and had its sights set on Earth.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture ended up making $139 million worldwide against a budget that began at $15 million but quickly grew to $46 million by the time the film was released on December 7, 1979. Considered both a box office and critical disappointment at the time, nonetheless Paramount was happy enough to green light a sequel as long as Roddenberry was removed as producer and the budget could be kept under control.
It isn’t exactly hard to see why Star Trek: The Motion Picture foundered at the box office and occupies an odd place in Star Trek lore. Unlike some films in the series, most notably Star Trek: Insurrection, that improve with age and with some hindsight, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is just as boring and dull as the first time you watched it 39 years ago.
Does it hurt me to say that? Sure. But there is no denying that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is just a bad movie on all fronts and no amount of time can change that.
Yes, visually the film is stunning and the work by cinematographer Richard H. Kline is top notch. Sure, the special effects are very impressive, especially considering this was before CGI and everything was done practically. The score by Jerry Goldsmith is a timeless classic that has become synonymous with the franchise. And yes, the film does adhere to the principles that many will say made Star Trek great in the first place, looking at our place in the universe and how we may evolve.
However, when you come right down to it, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is almost two hours of moviegoers watching the crew of the Enterprise look at a cloud.
And that’s about it.
The opening and final acts are interesting but it takes forever to get there. The bulk of the film is just Kirk, Spock and the rest sitting on the bridge, watching the main viewer. And they aren’t even watching anything all that interesting because it’s a freakin giant cloud!
Now I will grant you that the scene where Kirk and Scotty approach the space dock and we first see the Starship Enterprise really is a thing of beauty. If you ever have the chance to see it on the big screen in an actual theater I highly recommend it. Talk to any older Star Trek fan and many will tell you that that particular scene brought them to tears.
Unfortunately that doesn’t change the fact that no matter how many times you watch it, Star Trek: The Motion Picture doesn’t get better and doesn’t improve with age. Is it as terrible as Into Darkness or The Final Frontier? Hardly, but it’s close.
So Happy Birthday Star Trek: The Motion Picture. No, you aren’t a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but without you there would have been to Wrath of Khan or First Contact. So thank you for that.